The Life of Pi is directed by Ang Lee, and is the story of a boy who sets sail from India to Canada in a cargo ship with his family and the contents of their private zoo. It’s told in flashback, with him recounting the story as an adult to a novelist. Sometimes this takes you out of the story and breaks the flow a little, but it is necessary to frame the story and for the ending to make sense.
Visually it’s lush and beautiful. Lee has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the composition of his shots and how they will work in 3D. Nowhere is it clearer than in the opening titles, where depth of field (including focusing and defocusing elements), the framing and composition of the shots have all been selected to make the visuals as inviting and encompassing as possible. There is precious little cutting of foreground elements with the edges of the screen and none of the disorientating motion that seems to plague 3D films where the director doesn’t understand that focusing in 3D is necessarily different and more difficult than in the traditional flat plane.
The weather effects and use of small animals throughout make great use of 3D, and it is the sheer depth achieved that make the film as lush and engrossing as it is. The story is actually relatively slight, but told so well that it is virtually impossible not to be emotionally invested in it. You find yourself passionately caring about the animals, and they take on personalities of their own. This is actually vital to the ending of the film, and the message conveyed by the film itself.
I had to admit I approached the film with some trepidation. It’s relatively long, I knew next to nothing about it (and, even now, I can only tell you who two of the actors involved are, neither of whom were the star) and I feared that it may be a mistake to see it along the lines of King Kong (a sumptuous film with great reviews that I felt was an utter mess). Even worse, my initial impression was that it was similar to Slumdog Millionaire. I was wrong. It’s not a truly great film, but it is a good film that is full of visual splendour and wonder that really does need to be seen on the big screen and is as good a use of 3D as any I have seen. And it achieves both a parable like quality and comes close to being life affirming in a way that precious few films can.